Cutting off the Johnson?

After Boris Johnson takes a big dive in the polls, James Foley argues that the Tories are still benefitting from the weakness of Labour and SNP opposition.

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This has been the worst week in some time for Britain’s hegemonic Conservatives, a fact owing less to COP26 than to Boris Johnson’s mishandling of sleaze. His bungling of “lobby-gate” – more correctly, the latest of countless lobby-gates – contrived, within a week, to turn a three-point poll lead into a six-point deficit. For a certain type of optimist, it raises the recently unthinkable prospect of a Labour government under the neo-Blairite stewardship of Keir Starmer.

News cycle-driven shifts in polling are rarely reliable guides to underlying movements in public consciousness. And one or two polls in Labour’s favour risk obscuring the more fundamental facts: that six-point advantage poll was the first concrete, outside-margin-of-error Labour lead since January; hundreds of polls since then have shown a Conservative lead.

But there are reasons to think this scandal hurts the Conservatives, as it bears on the underlying sociological contradictions of the Johnson government. It is no coincidence that this, of all issues, brought Labour its first real good electoral news since the vaccine rollout. Lobbying exposes the easily forgotten roots of Conservative cadres in the British capitalist class, hence why so many parliamentarians view constituency work as a side-hustle from lobbying for business interests.

Labour’s “People’s Vote” debacle allowed the Conservatives to strike a temporary bargain with “Red Wall” voters in Northern England. But what Johnson won was a borrowed vote, a temporary alliance he struck with the peripheral English working-class against the trendy left and professional-managerial nostalgists for the ‘90s consensus.

For a while, Conservatives managed this contradiction judiciously: Sunak, having emerged from the world of hedge funds, often outflanked Labour from the left. YouGov polling thus shows that 64% think of Conservatives as a high-tax party, i.e. the “economic left”, as opposed to 56% who say this of Starmer’s neo-Blairite Labour. But football cliché has it that form is temporary, class is permanent, and the Tories could not hide the constituency of their cadres forever.

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Events

Thursday 18 November 6pm UK Time

Is the Left Populist Moment Over?

Is the populist moment over? Join this panel of scholars, activists and public intellectuals to discuss the future of left politics globally. Co-sponsored by Conter and the Havens Wright Centre for Social Justice at the University of Madison, Wisconsin.

Speakers:

  • Yanis Stavrakakis, Professor of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and founder of the Populismus Observatory.

  • Catarina Principe, Associate Editor, Jacobin and editor of Europe in Revolt

  • Daniel Chavez, Transnational Institute and author of The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn (2008)

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Thursday 18 November 7pm

How Blair Killed the Co-ops' Book Launch

Launch of Leslie Huckfield's book - How Blair Killed the Co-ops: Reclaiming Social Enterprise from its Neoliberal Turn. With speakers:

  • Owen Hatherley, author of Red Metropolis - the Greater London Council

  • John McDonnell MP, former Labours Shadow Chancellor

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